PARLIAMENT HILL—With one new and two refurbished Parliament Hill buildings set to open up next year and higher visitor traffic expected for Canada’s 150th celebrations along with continuing efforts to enhance Hill security, the Parliamentary Protective Service wants a $6.1-million increase to its annual funding next year as well as almost $2.4-million in additional funding for 2016-17.
The heads of the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) and House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan (Halifax West, N.S.) appeared before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on March 7 to discuss the House’s latest supplementary estimates and also used the opportunity to request more money for the upcoming 2017-18 main estimates. The Parliamentary Protective Service’s spending estimates for 2016-2017 was $62.1-million. The Parliamentary Protective Service, set up in 2015 after the Oct. 22, 2014, shooting on Parliament Hill, reports to the House and Senate Speakers, but the service is under the control and management of its director who is a member of the RCMP.
Along with funding details, MPs on the House Affairs Committee raised concerns over the proposed new security screening processes planned for new members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and MPs’ staff and questioned the amount of overtime for Hill security officers.
Separate discussions are ongoing to finalize a new security screening process for MPs’ staff and for new members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, which will involve criminal background checks by the RCMP and digital fingerprinting. The results of the checks will then be given to the Corporate Security Office which will determine whether or not to grant an individual a permanent pass to access the Parliament Buildings.
NDP MP David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, Ont.) wanted to know more about the House’s plans to introduce new security screening processes for new the Hill media and MPs’ staff.
Mr. Christopherson said the new process in the works for both groups is “raising serious concerns” and highlighted his continuing doubt over the true autonomy and independence of the new Parliamentary Protective Service, which now reports to the RCMP and in turn reports to the federal government. He asked what the security threshold would be and who and how that would be determined.
“It’s important we respect certain institutions like, for example, the role of the media and work out arrangements that make sense from all perspectives,” said acting director of the Parliamentary Protective Service Mike O’Beirne.
Mr. Regan said the Corporate Security Office will be in charge of the new security screening processes, adding that discussions and work to finalize these new processes remains ongoing. He said he think it’s “moving in a good direction.”
Speaking with The Hill Times after the hour-long meeting, Liberal MP Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, Ont.) said she understands from conversations she initiated with security officers on the Hill, after seeing “some of them here for long hours,” that they’re working overtime hours—which led her to raise questions over what’s being done to assess and address the amount of overtime issue.
“That’s something that I want to make sure that the hours they’re working in overtime, they want to work those hours and, if they don’t, that the proper supports are there so that if they choose not to work those overtime hours they’re not compelled to work those overtime hours,” she said.
In response to her questions at the committee, Mr. O’Beirne said the issue of overtime is always at the forefront of considerations, not just from a fiscal perspective but from a “wellness” one, and noted a number of employee wellness programs have been developed, aimed at both physical and mental health.
He noted that as of March 8, a new class of 22 Parliamentary Protective Service recruits will be starting a nine-week training course and will be on duty by the summer. Mr. O’Beirne said the recruits will also be part of ongoing work to plan and prepare for the security requirements to come in 2018 when Centre Block is set to close for use while the West Block and the Government Conference Centre will accommodate MPs and Senators and House and Senate bureaucrats. As well, the new underground Visitors’ Welcome Centre will be open.
Once Centre Block closes in 2018, the West Block will be used on an interim basis by the House of Commons. The House Chamber is being built in the West Block’s courtyard and it will be topped by a glass-domed roof which is currently being installed. Mr. O’Beirne said he and other PPS officials would soon be meeting with Public Services and Procurement Canada to get a better sense of timelines for when each building will closed and opened for use in order to determine what security resources are needed. It’s expected the Centre Block renovations will take 10 years to complete.
The Parliamentary Protective Service is requesting approval for a total of $2.39-million in additional funding to its supplementary spending estimates ‘c,’ which were tabled in February and it’s the final chance for additional funding approval for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Of that, $2.1-million is for operational requirements that were not anticipated previously, including security costs for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations on the Hill on New Year’s Eve, “and for future requirements that may occur prior to fiscal year end.”
Another $200,000 is required to fund administrative needs, including payroll, language training, and employee assistance program services provided to the Parliamentary Protective Service by the House of Commons administration, at cost through agreements, along with $90,000 to go towards the employee benefits plan. In all, that’s a total of $2.39-million in funding being requested through the House’s supplementary spending estimates.
While the meeting was supposed to focus on the final supplementary estimates of the year, the Parliamentary Protective Service also raised its asks for the main estimates for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which are set to come out later this spring following the federal budget.
The service is requesting a total of $68.2-million in funding for next year, including a $6.1-million increase to its annual voted budget to support ongoing efforts to enhance security on the Hill. Another $6.1-million in mandatory funding related to the employee benefits plan is included in the overall figure for 2017-18.
A total of 161 recommendations to improve security on the Hill were made following to Oct. 22, 2014, Parliament Hill shooting. As part of this, PPS received extra temporary funding to launch a Mobile Response Team, and is now requesting $1.2-million “to further implement and sustain the needs of this initiative,” Mr. Regan told the committee. That figure is part of the additional $6.1-million being requested. Mr. O’Beirne said the MRT is a group that is will be trained to response to a “broad spectrum of events” and will be operating amongst existing PPS forces.
The creation of the PPS itself was the result of security recommendation following the events of Oct. 22, 2014, to combine the three security forces which divided responsibilities to protect the precinct—the House of Commons and Senate security, which were responsible for their respective areas inside the Parliament Buildings, and the RCMP, which was responsible for the exterior grounds of the precinct.
Another $787,000 in additional funding for next year is related to the continuation of the security enhancement initiative in the Senate transferred to the PPS. Also part of the PPS’s request is $3-million in order to “stabilize the protective posture” in the Wellington Building, at 180 Wellington St., which officially opened last fall and is now fully in use. The newly renovated building houses a security operations centre, including space for the PPS. Mr. O’Beirne noted that coordination within the PPS has been improved by being “co-located” in the Wellington Building where combined briefings are held.
As well, $400,000 of renewed funding is for extra costs for baggage security screening at 90 Wellington St. through 2017-18, in part related to an expected increase to visitor traffic for Canada’s 150th celebrations. It was noted though that this funding could be temporary in part because in the future, security screenings will take place in the underground Visitors’ Welcome Centre, which is currently under construction and slated to open next year.
Finally, $886,000 of the money requested for next year is for “corporate service requirements,” including full-time communications support for internal and external messaging for the PPS, which would include responses to media, and to cover existing agreements with the House administration for human resources and IT support.
Asked about the swell of Hill traffic during the Red Bull Crashed Ice event near Parliament on March 3-4, Mr. O’Beirne noted the event involved cooperation between the Parliamentary Protective Service, Ottawa Police and the RCMP and was a “glimpse” of what’s expected for Canada Day this year.
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